Reviewed by Benji Wald, Los Angeles, CA
With much detail and enthusiasm, this book addresses the functional motivation for the order of constituents (e.g. words, phrases, and clauses) in spoken and written Silozi (or Lozi), a Zambian Bantu language. The extensive discussion of prior literature on functional theories of word order includes the author’s dissertation (Silozi constituent ordering and the theory of end weight, University of Edinburgh, 2000), possibly one of the first investigations of its kind.
Ch. 1 (1–31) reviews previous studies of Silozi. Ch. 2, ‘Some terminological and theoretical considerations’ (32–60), surveys the general functional literature on constituent order and ultimately adopts Simon Dik’s (1986) language independent preferred order of constituents formulation, although other scholars’ perspectives are incorporated as well.
Ch. 3, ‘Word classes’ (61–138), sketches the morphological word structure of Silozi and introduces the types of word classes. Ch. 4, ‘The phrase’ (103–38), explores the structure of Silozi phrases, particularly noun, verb, adjective, and prepositional phrases, and presents the hypothesis that constituent order is determined by informational weight. Ch. 5, ‘Silozi clause and sentence’ (139–89) proceeds from the phrase to the clause level.
Ch. 6, ‘Discourse: Pragmatically determined structures’ (190–232), examines deviations from canonical clauses, including passives, left dislocations, clefts, fronting, and postposing. Ch. 7 (233–58) and Ch. 8 (259–91) analyze written and spoken Silozi samples, respectively. Ch. 9, ‘The distribution of adverbials in Silozi sentences’ (292–318), completes the analysis with an investigation of the respective ordering of subordinate and main clauses as well as clause embedding in larger discourse contexts.
Ch. 10 (319–23) presents the general conclusions, the most striking of which is that spoken syntax does not provide the contexts necessary to adequately test the functional hypotheses, as discussed in Ch. 8. Although his analysis works well on written Silozi discourse, which is greatly similar to written English discourse, the author stops short of investigating whether the Silozi data display a general difference between spoken and written linguistic organization or if there is a more specific effect of English writing on Silozi written language.
The book is a conscientious attempt to explore an important aspect of Silozi syntax. The inclusion of spoken discourse in particular uncovers features of Silozi that would not have been revealed by more scholastic approaches: in addition to the possible complications in the syntax of spoken Silozi, the author notes the inevitable code-switching to English. Although at first this code-switching appears to be a general practice of Silozi speakers (27), later it becomes clear that this sample was collected from university students in Edinburgh (263). It is therefore unclear how widespread English is among Silozi speakers with little formal education. In no way does this invalidate the author’s conclusions; rather it indicates that this book must be read carefully to fully understand the nature of the data and the basis for the conclusions.
Dik, Simon C. 1986. On the notion “functional explanation”. Belgian Journal of Linguistics 1.11–52.